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Preparing Your Classroom Part Five (Staying Organized)

Preparing Your Classroom Part Five (Staying Organized)

This is part five in a series on preparing for the beginning of school. If you haven't read the earlier posts, you can start the series here. Also, I will be taking pictures of each of these ideas when I get back to my home office. I wanted to get these ideas to my readers as soon as possibe, so there aren't pictures yet. Check back around the first week of August!


Staying organized will save you a ton of time as a teacher. One of my favorite ways to stay organized is to assign students numbers. I know some people object to numbering students because it takes away their identities, but I have never found this to be true. I don’t call students by their numbers - of course, I use their names! But when I am collecting papers, I can easily see who is missing if they are in number order. I can also reuse classroom items from year to year, my lunch magnets lasted three years and counting!

I recommend numbering students by last name in alphabetical order. This will mean that any official class lists will match your numbering system. Of course, when you get a new student the system doesn’t work as well, but you will be able to adjust. 


Here are things I use the numbers for:


Attendance/lunch magnets on the door

Student Mailboxes

Student Supply Boxes

Assigning Chromebooks

Assigning textbooks

Line order

Planning differentiated instruction without using student names


Another way I stay organized is to use day of the week boxes to store materials for the week. These materials include lesson plans, worksheets, tests, quizzes, read aloud books, and anything else I know I will be using in class. In the past, I have used drawers in the rainbow cart, but that cart was always getting loose, so I wouldn’t recommend that. Instead, I would use sturdy plastic book boxes. I have also used the cardboard book boxes from IKEA, but these are prone to falling apart too.

At the beginning of a literacy or math book, I take everything for my guided groups out of the daily box. I can leave the stack on my table in the order I will meet with the groups. This makes teaching different lessons to different groups manageable.

Speaking of worksheets, paper, and other things that clutter a teacher’s desk, to stay organized, collect as little paperwork as possible. If you must collect paperwork, touch it only once. For example, you do not need to collect math assignments. Keep the assignments short, so you have time to review them during your guided math group. Once you have reviewed the assignment, kids can take them home or recycle them. When you collect tests and quizzes, collect them in number order. This way, you can quickly record grades as you grade them. 

When I finished recording grades, I would put the papers in a box near the student mailboxes. I had so many helpful kids that loved to sort papers into the mailboxes if they finished work early. Some kids would even stay in from recess to do this! 

If you are worried about student privacy, don’t record the final grade on the papers. Studies show that reporting a final grade actually hurts students because they will look at the grade and ignore the rest of the test. By leaving off grades, students are forced to look at the test to see their mistakes. This will help them learn from their mistakes.

The only things more abundant in a classroom than paper are pencils. For some reason, students can never find a sharp pencil when they need it. Just like many other teachers, I have used the dull pencil/sharp pencil jars. Students put dull pencils in a jar and take sharp pencils out of a jar. Sharpening pencils is another great job for students, but only for certain students. Kids break pencil sharpeners. Only the most careful student can handle the job of sharpening pencils. Sharpening pencils is also loud, so it can’t be done during class. If you are lucky, you will have the right student who will eagerly spend a few minutes of recess sharpening pencils. I also found sharpening pencils therapeutic at the end of the day. When my brain was totally burned out, I could put on music and sharpen pencils before tackling all the other stuff I had to do. 

Curious about sharpening colored pencils without breaking your pencil sharpener? You can read about that at my blog post all about sharpening colored pencils.

Keeping my schedule organized was another job I assigned to a student. During clean up time, one student would use my schedule cards to make the schedule for the next day. At first, I used time cards too, but these were too inconsistent to be helpful. Having an assembly meant the times for the day would be totally different. Plus, our specialists schedule was inconsistent, so there were just too many time cards. Instead, students wrote the times on the board. At first, I wrote the times, but students quickly took over for me.

Music is helpful for managing transitions. If you are running guided reading or guided math groups, you will want to have a way for students to be aware of the time as they transition. Find a song and cut it to two minutes. Then, play the song for every transition. Will you and your students get sick of this song? Yes. Will students get to their next stations on time? Yes.

Another idea I found on a blog a few years ago was using magnets as a sign in/sign out system on the door. You can use washi tape to mark boxes on the door, then students put their magnets in the boxes to show where they are. We also used the magnets to show lunch choices. Students select their lunch choices when they signed in in the morning. Then, when they leave, they move their magnets to the out box. There were also boxes for bathroom, nurse, office, and other classroom. One negative to this system is that the magnets tore up my door. I should have done this on a cookie sheet hung from the wall. 

Classroom libraries are another spot that can easily get messy. I always organized my books in plastic shoe boxes organized by genre. I put stickers on the books to help students put books away when they were returned to the library. I am sure there are some tweaks that would make this system better, but it worked pretty well. I found students were much more likely to select a book from one of the shoeboxes than off a bookshelf. Maybe this was because it was easier to flip through the books and look at the covers. 

Early finishers can be distracting when they don’t know what to do next. I didn’t have a chance to implement this in my classroom, but I would recommend workbooks. You can give each student workbooks to support whatever they are working on. I have fact practice workbooks, fraction workbooks, money workbooks, and many others in my store. You can print whatever will be helpful to a student and have her keep the packet in her desk. If she doesn’t know what to do, she can pull out the workbook.

I used community supplies for one year, and I would never do it again. Supplies were ruined because no one took responsibility for them. I felt so bad for the students who treated the supplies well, but had to use glue or scissors because of other students’ choices. I found that all students took better care of their own supplies than community supplies. Label all of the supplies with students' number. This will help you quickly locate the owner when a supply is left on the floor. Students kept their daily supplies in a box in their desk. Special supplies (like paint) were kept in boxes in the closet.

Thanks for reading this blog post about preparing for an organized classroom! You can read the next part in this series here.


Preparing Your Classroom Part Six (Communication with Parents)

Preparing Your Classroom Part Six (Communication with Parents)

Gamification in the Classroom

Gamification in the Classroom